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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

This morning I went down to the Washington Post’s office to volunteer with Greater DC CARES to prepare food for Martha’s Table, an organization that helps at-risk children, youth, families and individuals in the community improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and enrichment opportunities.  I was part of a team of youth and adults from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  I used to work for the Alliance, a terrific organization started by the American Heart Association and former President Clinton’s Foundation.

We spent the morning working as a team to do several service projects.  Our group prepared over 2,000 sandwiches to be handed out by McKenna’s Wagon.  The youth that were part of our team were part of the Alliance’s Youth Advisory Board, 25 amazing kids from across the country who inspire their peers to make healthy behavior changes and to become leaders and advocates for healthy eating and physical activity.  They quickly figured out good systems that allowed them to work more productively as a team.  Despite some minor help from us adults trying minimize the amount of jelly on the carpet, they pretty much handled it all.  What an amazing group of young people.  Thanks to my friend Kim for inviting me to be a part of this special day.

In addition to the food we prepared, the other teams participating produced 600 burn kits, 1,000 first aid kits for search and rescue teams, 500 basic toiletry kits for the homeless, and hundreds of cards and letters to be sent to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Great work by everyone!

While I was volunteering I heard about a wonderful woman named Gwen who drove the bus for the Alliance’s group.  As we left the building, I found Gwen and asked her if she would accept my $10!  Her face lit up and she gladly accepted.  The 54-year-old has a face that glows with energy.  I don’t think I saw her not smiling the whole time.  Born near the RFK stadium, she now lives in Largo, MD with her mother.  She has a 32-year-old son who works for Metro and four grandchildren.  

Me giving Gwen $10. Check out the video of this on the YoG Facebook Page. Photo Credit: John Wilson

My friend Daniel told me that yesterday he had asked Gwen if she knew where they could get some food.  She didn’t hesitate and opened her bag and offered a pear that she had brought for herself.  What a nice person to offer up her own food to someone else.

So I asked Gwen what she was going to do with the $10.  “I am going to put gas in my car!” she quickly replied.

Almost everyone had loaded up on the bus at this point and I didn’t want to hold the group up, so I quickly said goodbye and headed back home to write about the experience.   I am planning to go to the Embassy of Haiti at 5pm tonight for a candlelight vigil.  If you are in the DC area and would like to attend, go to 2311 Massachusetts. Ave., N.W. or check out the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee’s page on Facebook.

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If I had to use one word to sum up today, it would be frigid. 

I hopped on the Metro and headed down to Union Station.  David, a journalist from CNN, had asked to meet with me and do a story on the Year of Giving.

It was really cold.  The 45+ mph wind gusts didn’t help either. 

I love Union Station.  For those of you who are not from DC, you should definitely check it out if you come to town.  The 101 year-old building’s 96-foot barrel-vaulted, coffered ceilings are bathed in 22-karat gold leaf.  The beautiful white granite takes you back in time to when Union Station was the largest train station in the world.  With its majestic ceilings and definitive architectural lines, Union Station seems right at home among the many monuments and classic governmental buildings that surround the transportation hub.  

I saw David crossing the main hall toward the enormous Christmas tree (I think they may be calling it a Holiday Tree this year to be politically correct) that looks much smaller than it actually is given the large cavernous space that now serves as its home.  I wonder how long they will leave the tree up, today is January 2nd.

We sit down and David asks me some questions and shoots a little video.  Then I invite him to follow me as I give out my $10 for the day.  He has a very discreet hand-held camera that he fires up and trails behind me.  I urge him to go outside with me, despite the frigid temperature.  We walk outside and the cold stark wind greets my skin with noticeable chill.  We wander away from the historic building like two people inching their way out into the ocean, ever mindful not to get too far from shore.  It isn’t long before we start heading back toward the warmth of Union Station.  I don’t want to surrender just yet though and I decide to walk around to the side of the building where the Metro entrance is located.  About 15 feet away tuck in a corner sat the recipient of Day 19’s $10.

John was sitting on a piece of cardboard with a sign that read, “Help me get a bus ticket to New Orleans” or something to that nature.  He had a plastic cup cradled between his feet with a few dollars inside.  His face was fairly well protected from the cold but he didn’t have any gloves on and I was seriously worried about him.  I walked up to him and asked how he was doing.

He responded in a slow semi-dazed voice that he was ok but that he needed money for a bus ticket to New Orleans.  The 25-year-old said that he recently broke up with his boyfriend in Vermont and was trying to get to New Orleans where his father had a place.  He said he didn’t have enough money for the entire trip, so he made it to DC and now needed to gather some more money for the remainder of the journey.

You want to believe John, but part of me wonders if I am getting the real story.  A woman interrupts us and tells John he should really get in a shelter and that he can go to nearby Adam’s Place, an emergency shelter for single men ages 18 and older run by Catholic Charities.  She shoves a few dollars into his cup and makes a final plea for him to get inside.  I urge him as well.  Today is the kind of day that hypothermia ceases to be something you read about and turns into something that you experience first hand.  He thanks her and also says that he has the Shelter Hotline number with him.  Last night he slept at a shelter but said that it was a terrible experience. 

John accepts my $10 and says he will put it toward the bus ticket to New Orleans.  Part of me wants to help more.  I offer to go with him to Adam’s Place and get him checked in for the night, but he says he will go later.   

Most of my time with John was somber.  I was concerned for his well being.  I feared how he fair should he not get out of these conditions.  Despite his dire straits, he finds it in him to let his mind wander away from reality and tells me how he really enjoys REO Speedwagon, Meatloaf, and the Scorpions.  I smiled and laughed a little.  He is probably the only 25-year-old that I know that is a huge fan of that genre of music.  It reminds me of a friend of mine, John Wilson, who is a huge music enthusiast in his mid twenties.  He could tell you almost anything you wanted to know about music recorded years before he was born.  Then again, my friend JW could talk solidly on just about any topic you could think up.

So I left John.  It was hard to walk away.  I invited David from CNN to come over and introduce himself to John.  I hadn’t told John that I was wearing a microphone and being filmed. I didn’t want to affect the experience.  David asked if he would allow the footage of him to be used in the story about the Year of Giving and he agreed.  It’s an awkward moment because as decent people we want to ask permission prior to the fact, however, in this case asking permission would certainly have changed the way the recipient would have acted.  David’s set-up is really minimalist and goes virtually unnoticed, so he is able to capture the events in a way that helps preserve the genuineness of the experience. 

David and I go inside to talk some more over coffee.  I can’t stop thinking about John and if he is still sitting on the frozen cement.  When we were finished, I walked by the spot where we met John.  He was gone.  I hope he sought out a warmer environment.

For those of you interested in the story that David is doing for CNN.com, I will follow up with some details when they become available…but it will probably be a few weeks.

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Today was a mixed bag.  Several positive things happened, but also some frustrating setbacks.

I have been battling with unemployment.  For some reason they have not paid me a dime since I filed back in September.  I have sent letters, emails, called them, all to no avail.  So, finally I decided to trek over to the closest center that they have which is on Rhode Island Avenue in NE.  I get over there and wait in line to get to the front desk only to find that they stopped letting new people in 11 minutes earlier.  So, once again, I am shot down by the unemployment office.  I will be back tomorrow or Wednesday at 8:30 am to guarantee that I get to speak to someone.

On the positive side, I got two updates from previous recipients of the Year of Giving and I heard back from two different organizations with whom I have been interviewing.  The updates were from Davie (Day 5) and Jenny (day 13).  Davie is doing well.  He used the $10 toward a bus ticket to NYC and is doing well there.  He still plans to come back to DC in January.  He was very gracious for the gift and even offered to do something in return, however, he said he wasn’t sure what that would be but said he was really good at giving mohawk, chelsea, undercut, etc. style haircuts.  Not sure how I would look with one of those, but who knows! 

You might have also seen that Jenny posted a comment.  She promises to keep us posted on her journey during the Year of Giving.

So on my way home from the failed Unemployment Office visit, I stopped at the Giant at the Rhode Island / Brentwood Metro station.  On my way out I saw a woman with a cart full of groceries waiting for someone to pick her up.  Davitia, a 32 year-old resident of NW, is a Home Health Aid.  She visits people, mostly elderly, in their homes and helps them with some of their basic routine items.  She is very kind and I am sure she brightens the day of the people that she serves. 

I got a chuckle from the response Davitia gave when I asked if she would accept the $10.  She snapped her neck back slightly and said something like, “Heck yeah!”  She smiled and I gave her the $10.  She said that the money would probably go to her Metro SmarTrip card.  Interesting that Jenny said the same thing yesterday.

I asked Davitia what she had purchased and she had the usual things to feed her family.  She has three children, so you can imagine the amount of food they go through to fill their growing bellies.  I was glad to meet Davitia…she brightened my day.

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I ended up putting off my giving today until late tonight.  I traveled back from Pennsylvania, went to my theatre rehearsal, and then made it downtown to my place and unloaded my car with my bags and Christmas gifts.  I dumped everything just inside the door and then grabbed my little notebook and $10 and went out to find somebody at about 10:30 pm.

When it’s late, I prefer to find people inside or near well-lit areas; otherwise people are often reluctant to talk.  I decided to head over to Kramerbooks.  It’s open late, it is an excellent place, and I thought I would find someone interesting there.  I meandered through the book-lined labyrinth inside but did not find anyone that I really felt like approaching.  Then I spotted a woman outside peering through the front window.

Jenny, a 26 year-old recent masters recipient in the area of public health, was waiting for the 42 bus.  She was inquisitive about what I was doing, however, agreed to participate rather quickly.  I gave her the $10 and asked her what she planned to do with it.  She said that all her money was earmarked for bills, rent, etc.  She had about $13 of spending money to her name.  Now she had $23.  She said she would initially hold on to the money until Wednesday when she started a waitressing job.  She needs to have a “bank” of $30 in cash to make change.  Once she gets some money from the job, she said she would use the money to add to her Metro card to help her get to/from work. 

Her professional goal is to find a job in global public health.  Maybe something with USAID, etc.  Those jobs are hard to come by according to her.  I think she has a good shot though, as she has a solid education and already done work in Africa in the public health field.  So if anyone out there can help Jenny out or give her some tips on getting a job in this field, leave a comment, I know she would appreciate it.

As we started to depart, I asked her to check out the blog and keep us posted on how her new job goes as well as her job search for a career in global public health.

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I couldn’t stop thinking about my chance encounter with David yesterday.  It was a real pleasure to meet him.

So, yesterday set the bar pretty high.  With the snow storm here, some of my holiday shopping plans got canceled yesterday and I needed to head out to do some shopping.  Daniela also needed to still get some gifts, so we decided to head out around 4:00 pm to go to Pentagon City Mall in Virginia.  I am a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so this was not an easy decision as the Steelers game started at 4:00 pm as well.  They have lost their last 5 games and I really wanted to see them get their act together.  They ended up winning tonight by one point in what turned out to be a nail-biter.

As we got to the Metro, we saw a man sitting on the ground with a white Styrofoam cup in front of him.  You have got to be kidding me.  It’s 30 degrees and he is sitting on the ground.  We walked past him and then Daniela convinced me that I should choose him for my person today.  So I did.

Anthony is almost 60 years old…although I think he looked a little younger.  Granted I said that about Knox (Day 1) too.  Maybe that just means I am getting older!  He was sitting on the sidewalk, a few wet newspapers between his corduroy pants and the snow.  He had a two plastic grocery store bags behind him nestled in the snow. 

Anthony sits on the frozen ground and panhandles

A native of Bethesda, MD, Anthony has been homeless here in DC since loosing his job in 2000.  I was pretty shocked when he told me that he had been on the streets that long because Anthony, despite sitting comfortable sitting on the frozen ground in sub freezing temperatures, comes across pretty well.  He had several jobs in the past with household name companies such as Safeway, Marriott, a local country club, and Greyhound bus lines.  He eventually had some alcohol related issues that lead to his departure from driving for Greyhound.  He agreed with me that it was totally reasonable for them to let him go due to his drinking problems.

Anthony is light-hearted and soft-spoken.  He made us laugh several times as he spoke about his times working at the country club when they would have some fun hitting golf balls before the course opened up while they were supposed to be clearing twigs and branches.  His eyes lit up suddenly as he recalled the routine occurrence of seeing foxes dart across the greens in the early hours.

Anthony pulled out the two bags behind him.  One was a six-pack of Natural Light that was literally sitting on ice, the other had some miscellaneous items.  He offered me a beer, which I declined.  He made some excuses for his drinking, mainly that it keeps him warm.  I bet in the summer it helps keep him cool J.

He began to open the other bag and said that he had something for his mother, whose birthday was on Wednesday.  It was somewhat of a birthday/Christmas gift.  As he explained what he had got her and untied the bag, the word “egg” came out of his mouth and I was sure he got her some eggnog!  But it wasn’t, it was an egg custard pie.  He also had some Christmas cards in the bag that he wanted to sign and give to his family to distribute.  He said, even on the streets you don’t escape sending some Christmas cards. 

Anthony said he was going to use the $10 for two things.  You probably guessed that some was going to go to getting some additional Natural Light at some point.  You are correct.  In addition he said that he would be able to take public transportation this week to meet up with his sister.  

Anthony doesn’t have a lot of contact with his family anymore.  “It’s hard.  I don’t want to embarrass them, and I understand that they need to keep a little distance.” He planned to drop the pie and the Christmas cards off to his sister.  I wish I would have asked him about any family he might have had.  It was so cold, and I was squatting on the ground to speak with him, that I forgot to ask several things that now I wish I would have. 

Anthony seemed ok with his being homeless.  He has obviously conditioned himself.  He admitted that he might end up dieing due to his illness and inability to stay sober and escape from the streets. 

I asked if I could take his picture and he said “sure.”  Then he removed his GW hat and asked if I thought he looked better with it on or off.  I said it was up to him and he decided to leave it on.  As I started to stand and stretch my legs I asked him where he would go tonight.  He said he would probably head to St. Luke’s as the temperature was to creep into the low 20s tonight.  He thanked me and said that I had been very gracious.  I shook his hand and we wished one another a happy holiday and I left.   If you come across Anthony, say hello…he is a kind and gentle man.

These experiences are definitely causing me to appreciate my life and family more this year than any other.

UPDATE: June 16, 2010

After more than six months without seeing Anthony, I came across him sleeping in the middle of a park around midnight.  I didn’t know it was him, but saw someone who didn’t seem to be breathing and had no belongings with them laying motionless on the ground.  I checked to see who if they were ok and it turned out to be Anthony!  He seemed intoxicated, but happy.  He remembered me and we talked for a while.  Here is a short clip.

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Davie manages a smile despite the ice sickles that have formed in his beard.

Today’s recipient embodies the very spirit of the mission that I set out to serve.  I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed meeting with Davie.

I had mixed emotions about heading out today to find a recipient due to the eight inches (and counting) of snow that has fallen.  Daniela and I decided to venture out and see who we would find.  The first person we approached declined to participate, she said she was very skeptical of any type of “offer” that she receives from people that she does not know.

A few minutes later we saw a Street Sense vendor.  Street Sense is a newspaper which serves as a vehicle for elevating voices and public debate on issues relating to poverty while also creating economic opportunities for people who are experiencing homelessness in the community.  David, a Scottish lad from Glasgow in his twenties who came here to pursue the “American dream,” was sporting an ice sickle laden beard.   I explained what I was doing and he agreed to accept my $10.

I could probably write a year’s worth of blogging just on Davie.  What an interesting person he is.  He left Glasgow back in the spring and arrived in Baltimore and made his way to California.  Then he decided to make his way back east.  With virtually no money, he managed most of his journey by bus, hitchhiking, walking, and whatever else you could imagine.  He arrived in DC in early October and is living on the streets near 14th and H.  Davie is joining the US military to go serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Aside from paying fairly well, there is a program that you receive US citizenship if you complete so many years of service, I believe Davie told me it was four years.  He hopes to depart in a few weeks.

I asked Davie what he was going to do with the $10 and he said he was going to put it toward a bus ticket to NYC to complete some things he needs to enlist and go abroad.

As I said, I could go on about Davie…but will just make a brief list of the interesting things I have learned about him.

  • Davie spent almost five years in the Légion Etrangère (French Foreign Legion).  As part of his training, he spent 6 months in French Guiana for jungle training.
  • Davie’s grandfather served in Heinrich Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst, the nazi intelligence organization.
  • Davie has no family that he knows of.  He has two brothers that were more than 20 years older than him that he doesn’t know very well and has not seen or heard from in years.  His parents were killed in a highway accident and he explained his uncle was killed as a result of sectarian violence in Glasgow.  Davie, a catholic and self-confessed former hooligan, was injured in sectarian violence.  His leg was slashed with an ax years ago.
  • Davie admittedly said that he refused to interact with Protestants in his homeland almost all of his life; however, rather recently he overcame some of his feelings and established some relationships with some Protestants in Glasgow.
  • As those of you who are aware the fierce sectarianism that exists in Glasgow, you might guess that he is a die-hard Celtic (this is soccer, not the NBA!) fan.  Their “enemies” are the Rangers.  He let me know there was a match between the two clubs on January 3 and advised of the severe violence that was sure to occur.
  • Davie use to follow the Celtic team around Europe…occasionally being ejected, arrested, or sent home.  There was a certain amount of passion that Davie exhuberates when he speaks about the Celtic club.  He reminisced about his youth days when the anticipation of physically attacking the other club’s fans would burn inside him.  I use the word “passion”, but it was clear that his passion took the form of rage and violence.
  • He not only sells Street Sense, but is a published author for them.  He has three 3 articles published in the December 9-22nd issue, including a poem.  One of his articles talks about what a typical day is like for a homeless person in DC and there is even a picture of David there.  He is a good writer and I strongly encourage everyone in the DC area to pick up a copy of this issue!  For those of you not in DC, it should be available online in February.  They have a delay so that they do not lose sales of the print version.
  • Davie does not panhandle.  He doesn’t believe in that.  He feels that you should earn your money legitimately.
  • Including my $10, he said that he has $23 to his name.
  • Davie has been beat up and mugged several times in the US.
  • His favorite spot in the US is Montana.  He loved the scenery and the crystal clear water coming down the mountainside.  His least favorite place was Albuquerque, New Mexico where he was mugged several times in one evening!
  • He is ineligible for the US Air Force due to his tattoo on his neck.
  • Sometimes Davie sells single cigarettes on the street just to get some money to get by.
  • He does not drink or do drugs…well, he smirked and admitted in his rather mild Scottish accent that he has a beer every 2 months or so to “keep the kidney stones away!”  Back in his youth, he said he was quite a mess and spent some time in juvenile detention centers.

I feel like I could go on forever….but I have to bring this to a temporary closing for now.  We were chatting in front of a Starbucks that had closed do to the weather.  There was something sharply ironic in standing with a man who has $23 to his name and watch dozens of Washingtonians nudge by us only to see that the Starbucks was closed and hear them grumble that they can not get their $5 Skinny Hazelnut Latte with soy milk.

Snow blanketed the DC area

We finally stopped our chat, as it was very cold and the snow was making my little 5” x 3” notebook nearly illegible.  I wish everyone out there could spend time with Davie.  He is an eccentric fellow who reminds me a little of Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) in his abandonment of material goods in exchange for his exploration of the US.  I got his email address and begged him to keep me posted on how things go.  He uses the internet at the public library, which was unfortunately closed today due to the snow storm.  I hope he comments here for you all to get a taste of who this very interesting young man is.  I will keep you posted on his adventures as well.

UPDATE Jan. 25, 2010: You can see a video update with Davie on Facebook.

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